Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Please do it at home

I've talked before about the Japanese ability to do some strange things in public (like the guy in one of my classes tweezing is nose hairs!) There is also the girl with the bleach-blond hair who sits in the front seat right in front of the driver on the morning bus. When I get on she is already well into her make up routine, hair held back with huge clips, large folding mirror braced against the bag on her lap. She goes through her entire morning make-up routine, right down to eyelash curlers (which she is invariably using just as the bus makes a violent and rather sharp turn). It is actually quite impressive to note her control and how well made-up she looks when we all get off at the last stop!

One of the things I remember from my very first course on Japan, an introductory culture/history course I took as a first year undergrad, was the week we learned about uchi/soto and politeness. The professor was (in)famous for not actually teaching, so we didn't have a lecture, but I do remember the readings, from Joy Hendry's "Understanding Japanese Society." I haven't read the text for roughly a decade now, so forgive me if my memory is spotty, but Hendry makes a BIG deal about uchi/soto. When I arrived in Japan for my exchange six months later I was prepared for an uber-private country. Not somewhere you'd expect to see girls and women like my bus-mate. Or perhaps it makes sense after all. While these women may be out in public, they can close themselves off from the strangers around them and pretend they are in front of their bathroom mirror.

While the women may not have a problem poking, prodding, primping, and ppp...ppp... preening in public, however, there appear to be those that do have a problem with it. Enter the latest ad campaign from the Tokyo Metro system. It is a year-long campaign aiming to improve the "manners" of subway riders. The ads feature the Japanese tagline "家でやろう" (literally "let's do it at home") and the English line of "Please do it at home." So far three posters have been unveiled, one on sitting properly, one on not speaking on your cell phone while in the train, and one on, you guessed it, not applying make-up.

I travel by Tokyo Metro subway at least day a week, and the ads are prominently featured in the stations I use on a regular basis. Then I noticed they began showing up on a few blogs I read on a regular basis. I did a quick Google search and discovered they appeared prominently on a large number of Japan-related blogs in English and a HUGE number of Japanese blogs. (in English here, here, and here, and a few in Japanese just for fun here, here, here, and here)

I'm amused by the Green-Eyed Geisha's suggestions that the guy in glasses looking over make-up girl's shoulder, who also features with cell-phone girl, and is likely the same one looking at lounging seat boy too, should make an appearance later in the year in the poster against creepy men who feel up women on crowded trains.

The Japanese blogs are also quite inventive and amusing, especially with their suggestions for future posters: the stinky man who makes you feel sick, the old men who drink beer on the train, the kids playing portable video games, homeless people, old men who look at x-rated magazines... The last of the blogs, listed as that of a Waseda University research and ski aficionado, remarks that while the English is grammatically correct the poster confounds many foreigners. I'd say this particular foreigner is more amused than confounded!

The posters are undeniably visually appealing, the simple colouring stands out and the message is just as clear and simple. What I am less sure about is whether it will do any good. How likely is it that if the girl from my bus in the morning saw the poster she would say to herself "Wow, I hadn't realized I was being rude by putting on all my make-up on the bus every morning. From now on I'll put it on at home before I get on the bus, and spend the bus ride reading about world issues, and I'll be sure to give up my seat to one of the elderly passengers, and while I'm waiting for the bus to come I'll rescue kittens from trees and help the blind man across the road and... and..." Right so perhaps not tooo likely. Campaigns such as this one are fairly common in Japan, however, with train and bus companies urging better manners and more consideration for fellow travellers, public toilets urging you to help keep the area clean, and various other locations urging you to take your garbage home with you, not smoke while walking, not throw your cigarettes on the ground, not....

I wonder what Joy Hendry would have to say about this? Is it the reaction to a crisis, the break-down of the good 'ole Japanese politeness? Or is it an attempt at re-affirming social mores in a society that is slowly becoming less homogeneous? Or, since the posters so far have focused on bad habits of the younger generation, is it simply the age old refrain of the old to the young - "When I was your age I..."

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Summer Funk

I've recently been reading the blog of a girl I went to high school with. She writes about the trials and joys of being the wonderful mother of two adorable little girls, and about memories from her past. Her reminiscing of the two years she and her husband spent teaching English in Niigata prefecture have been particularly fun for me to read. While some of the things she says really resonate with me (the heat and mugginess of summer, the shyness of the kids, the wonders of the hot springs...), some of them are very different.

One of the things that Laura mentions about Japan is the fact that deodorant is not widely sold in this country. (click here and then scroll down to the Feb 7 post entitled "where the sun rises 2") Five years ago I spent a couple of days fruitlessly searching with a certain guy when he ran out. We never did find anything at all for men. For women there were an array of spray ons and a few liquid roll-ons. (I've tried both and have not been impressed, but luckily have not had to rely on either for any length of time) A few years later we discovered the one location in all of Japan that sells solid men's deodorant - Costco. Yup, in packs of 5! Japan appears to be changing, however, and new products are appearing everywhere. Nowadays many stores in Tokyo carry deodorant sprays for men too, and the younger set seems to use them. I've even noticed guys reach into their bags while sitting in a classroom waiting for the start of class, pull out a spray can and shake it before spraying a couple of shots at each armpit. (The whole personal care in public issue, however, is one that deserves a post all of its own!)

Right, so where was I?

Ah yes, a largely deodorant-less male population in a country that gets famously hot and muggy during the summer. Such a pleasant mixture. Laura remarks that in Niigata she never noticed a funny odor coming from her or the locals. Maybe it was the fresh clean air, or maybe the the diet is different, or maybe they just breed 'em differently in Niigata, because I can assure you that the men (and women) of Tokyo DEFINITELY smell in the summertime. Cram enough salarymen into a train on their way home in the evening and the trains take on a certain funk too. A certain olfactory reminder that summer has arrived in the metropolis. Pleasant stuff.

This is why deodorant (along with pants that are actually long enough for me) is the one thing that I always stock up on when I head to Canada. On my recent trip to the US I picked up a new extra strong deodorant, from the Baking Powder people, Arm & Hammer, and am very happy with the results. Now if could just convince the Japanese government to hand them out free to all citizens I'd be set!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Academic High

I had an awesome weekend. Exhausting, somewhat tedious in parts, but overall generally awesome. Saturday was more tedious than anything else, as I spent nearly 5 hours photocopying and then assembling 70 copies of booklets and handouts. My hands are still cramping from stamping the organization's official stamp onto multiple types of receipts to be handed out for participation fees, annual fees, dinner/party ticket, publication sales... It was all preparation for the annual general meeting and conference of a national museum studies academic organization. My advisor was the incoming chief and therefore the host for the whole shebang.

Sunday dawned early as we had to set up the reception tables, upload powerpoint presentations, and the rest of the last minute preparations. I was powerpoint-girl, so I sat at the computer desk at the front of the room for the entire day (they forgot to send somebody in to swap with me, and kept apologizing at the dinner later!) and hit the button to advance to the next powerpoint slide for each of the presentations. I even got to do some fun things like checking off each point on the general meeting agenda as it was completed, highlighting the location for the post-conference party, and changing times (as the speakers invariably went overtime and we had to cut back break times).

I'm making fun of it, but it actually was a good deal of fun. I was very lucky to be powerpoint-girl since instead of running about doing photocopies and other random errands, I was one of only two student helpers (out of nearly a dozen) who actually got to listen to all of the presentations. As an added bonus, I was also at the front of the room, meaning that at the post-conference party I was a recognizable face (as if being the only foreigner wouldn't have been enough!) and made a number of valuable contacts as a result!

The best part of the weekend, however, was without a doubt meeting other graduate students in museum studies! While I do have a couple of friends here with a background in museum studies, and I do know a fairly good number of people in their 20s-30s who work in museums, I am the ONLY student at my university in museum studies, and this can be lonely. I didn't even know that there were more than a handful of us in the Tokyo area, so it was really exciting to see other members of my rare species! There were two guys who presented during the morning session, two girls who helped out with the registration desk, and another half-dozen or more who were either there or who I heard of through their professors. When I was asked to speak at the after-party I pitched my idea of forming a Tokyo-area museum studies grad student organization of some sort. The other students (to whom the idea had already been pitched) were enthusiastic, their professors were even more so (but they had been drinking more heavily, after all!). I'm hoping that we can arrange something where we could meet every month to share our research, discuss an article we've all read, or even just have a meal and be museum nerds together. It should be good fun and a great networking opportunity.

The past week has been a good one for this museum nerd. I've found other members of my species and, for that reason and a few others, I now feel anything but lonely!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Who's Your Daddy?

Lester B. Pearson was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada. It was under his leadership that important programs such as universal health care, student loans, and the Canadian Pension Plan were begun, and the red maple leaf was adopted as the Canadian flag. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, credited by the Nobel prize selection committee has having "saved the world," and is often referred to as the father of modern peacekeeping. He was also, however, the father of Geoffrey Arthur Holland Pearson.

Geoff was a close family friend who passed away suddenly in mid-March. I remember him as a gruff grandfather-figure. Over potato pancakes at the Jewish bakery in his neighbourhood he would grill me on my activities, critiquing my insufficiently worded answers. His rough exterior, however, covered a very warm heart, and I cherish the memories I have of him. He will be sorely missed.

Geoffrey Pearson was a diplomat in his own right, serving in France, Mexico, and India before becoming the ambassador to the Soviet Union. In the 1980s he served Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and held senior positions in the Canadian Institute for International Affairs and the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000. And yet, throughout his entire life he lived in the shadow of his famous father.

One of my co-workers at the museum is the youngest son of a famous Japanese academic who passed away a number of years ago. My co-worker too went into a field similar to that of his father and, as Geoff wrote a book about his father, so too does my co-worker give talks on his father's work and theories. Since the family name is fairly uncommon, my co-worker often has people ask him "are you related to..." Public respect for his father and the ground breaking work he accomplished often cause my friend to be treated with respect and awe. He commented to me once that he can tell the point at which people stop treating him as his father's son and start actually treating him as himself.

When I was a little girl I often complained about how long it could take my father to accomplish a simple task such as going to the drug store. In my eight-year-old's eyes, he was CONSTANTLY running into and then chatting with past and present students. This happened SO often that I came up with a poem to express my exasperation:
Dad, Dad!
student you had?!
I spent my first year of university at the school where my father taught and was department chair. Every time I submitted paperwork, went to talk to a professor, or otherwise interacted with anybody at the university I always had people saying "Oh! You're Don's daughter!!"

Perhaps partly due to this I found myself moving gradually further and further away from home, until I ended up on the other side of the world! Volunteering with Girl Guides/Scouts in India I figured I was finally free of my father's shadow. I was inordinately pleased to hear my father say that he wasn't able to talk to a single person when he came to visit me without them saying "Oh! You're Sarah's father!!" The trouble is, I got sick and he had to amuse himself for a few days, during which time he managed to befriend the head of one of the social organizations we worked with on a regular basis. As a result, at the annual dinner held by the centre and attended by members of a number of local social organizations, I had a very excited older man come running up to me to exclaim, you guessed it, "Oh! You're Don's daughter!!" Sigh...

As much as I complain about it, however, I am proud of my father. As a little kid I looked up to his students and wanted to grow up to be just like them. I am lucky and very grateful to have such a close relationship with my father and appreciate his support and (sometimes) his criticism, for I know that without it and I would not be where I am today.

I love you dad. Happy Father's Day!

(Oh, and PS. Your scarf didn't get knit in time to wing its way to you for Father's Day, I actually haven't cast on for it yet... umm... But you weren't really planning on wearing it this summer, right? I promise you'll get it by winter time... honest!)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Why Knit?

I listened to a podcast this morning, an interview with the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. In the interview Stephanie says that she feels knitting speaks especially to those who are for whatever reason not part of the mainstream, and that it inspires confidence in them. Her comment was that a knitter cannot help but look down into their lap and be inspired by the evident skill that created the beautiful item currently on the needles.

As usual, Stephanie hit the nail smack dab right on the head, at least for me. As a tall white female living in Japan I'm not quite mainstream. Definitely not quite mainstream! That doesn't bother me. I love living in Tokyo. And yet, the daily challenge of having to function in a foreign language (albeit one I speak with some level of ability) does wear me down. I'm a perfectionist but I have to live with the fact that whatever I say, whatever I write, will have some mistake in it. I take classes in Japanese, write papers in Japanese, have academic conversations in Japanese, do translations to and from Japanese, have had lessons in reading historical documents that your average native Japanese speaker can't read, and am about to start writing my MA thesis in Japanese. But my abilities in the language are FAR from perfect. I know that and it doesn't really bother me most of the time. But being able to look at a scarf I've knit for a friend (while the scarf is obviously not perfect either), is a wonderful feeling. It makes me feel a lot better about my abilities. It isn't just about function, just about getting my point across, but about beauty.

As Stephanie said, that confidence, that satisfaction spills out into the non-knitting side of life. Having finished a scarf for a friend I am filled will a feeling of accomplishment and suddenly that oral presentation next week doesn't seem quite so impossible after all...

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Yes, I am still knitting...

An annoying thing called school (and work) has kept me from spending as much time as I might like to doing fun and relaxing things, like knitting! I have managed to do some knitting, however, so without further ado...

I started a scarf for a friend a while back, but by the time I finished it I had decided it wasn't the right colours nor the right pattern for her. It is a keyhole scarf in various browns and beiges - some leftovers and some novelty yarn I was playing with. It was a very fast knit and dead simple but I think I have satisfied any desire to knit with novelty yarn for quite a while! In the end, I was left with a nice scarf, but nobody to give it to...

Until I remembered that a previous scarf recipient had mentioned that his wife and daughter were eyeing his scarf. The homeless scarf is now gracing the neck of his wife. I've never met the lady in question, but I am sure she is lovely as she has EXCELLENT taste in thank-you chocolates. The only trouble is that she is apparently somewhat camera shy. This leaves me without a picture of the lovely couple in their new scarves. I will keep working on it, but in the meantime I suppose this will have to do:

Next came a scarf for my host mother in southern Japan. Her colour request was white and silver, so I picked out a lightweight yarn, and enjoyed the challenge of the more difficult lacy stitch pattern that this scarf entailed. It had to be ripped back a few times due to unforeseen accidents (like the button on my jacket wrist catching the needles and yanking out half of three rows), but once I got the hang of it it was great fun! Despite not quite knowing what I was doing, the scarf blocked surprisingly well and I'm rather pleased with the end result.

I had hoped to be able to send it to okaasan in time for Mother's Day, but I was finishing up the tasselling and doing the blocking on that day. She had to settle for a phone call and the parcel being sent to her a few days later.

She was quite happy with the scarf, but is still reminding me I haven't been down for a visit in over 2 years!

I am still working on that cable scarf, it has doubled in length! It isn't anywhere near actual scarf length yet, however, so I will keep going back to it. I had hoped to mail it out to the recipient in time for his mid-June birthday, but that isn't going to happen. Given the warmth of the season, however, I'm sure he'd prefer it as a Christmas present!

More exciting, however, is my birthday yarn. I had decided I would use both skeins to make myself a shawl. But when I took the yarn out to photograph it, I was forced to realize once again that while the two skeins are the same colourway, the dye lots are significantly different. This may not be a problem, but while I absolutely love one of the two skeins, the other one doesn't inspire the same feeling, and I know if I used it in the same project the orange would bother me... So, I picked up some yarn to complement the blues and greens, and will use those for my shawl. I even found a basic pattern online that I like, and I am ITCHING to get it on the needles. So that I can finish the shawl just in time for the muggy grossness that is summer in Tokyo - yup!

Skein #1

Skein #2

Then a week or so ago I got MORE yarn in the mail! Again, this yarn is my colours (ie GREEN!), a fun boucle in variegated greens.

Almost immediately I spent time researching patterns online, time I SHOULD have spent preparing for an oral presentation... sigh. Anyways, I may be ready to branch out (either that or scarves are starting to bore me) because I think I've decided this yarn (likely with the addition of a basic dark green or black) will be turned into a shrug or bolero (short sweater). We'll see... I'm discovering just how fickle and short-lived my attention to any given knitting project can be...!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Japnese Lesson

Facebook has an application that will teach you a new Japanese word everyday. I'm not going to try to beat that, but I do have one word I am going to share with those of you who don't already know Japanese. The word is 告白 (kokuhaku), individually the characters mean "announce/report" and "white." Combined they mean "confession," most commonly in the sense of a professing of feelings for somebody. The word can be used with the addition of する (suru, "to do") as a verb, in the sense:

She finally managed to stop being a wimp and kokuhaku.

Just by itself it is a noun, in the sense:

He was completely surprised and rendered utterly speechless by her kokuhaku.

So there is your lesson for the day. What does it mean? Well honestly I thought I knew but it turns out that maybe, just maybe I don't afterall. We'll see. That's the fun thing about the Japanese language (and life in general), there is always a new surprise waiting to be learnt.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

No Education for Me! - REVISED

** NOTE: I've edited this post after learning that my professor DID in fact contact the correct people to have the class officially cancelled - I apologize for thinking otherwise! I am not sure whether that notice resulted in an official posting, however, as it seemed like a full class of students waited the allotted 40 minutes. **

Two Thursdays have passed without an Education Thursdays post, so allow me to explain. The first week's lack of post was due to the fact that I skipped class (and the country) for my trip to the US with the museum. The second week's missing post? Well that was due to the fact that the professor didn't show. There is a complex system in place at my university for professors to alert students to the fact that class has been cancelled. It involves classes being listed somewhere on campus. Since I take courses at two different campuses, and both undergrad and grad courses at one campus, this means I am supposed to routinely check multiple notice boards. I admit to not checking these boards (especially for my education class as I only go to the campus for the class). I know where the grad board is and I check it for class cancellations and general announcements about once a week. For the rest - well, I just go to class. I didn't check, so I can't be sure, but given the large number of students sitting around, I'm guessing that my education class was not posted as cancelled.

There is apparently a time rule - how long students should stay before they are allowed to assume that class has been cancelled. I'm not sure of the time (I think it is about 40 minutes), but apparently most of the class does know the time (or they were just following each other, as about half of the students got up to leave at the same time. I stuck around for another 5 or 10 minutes before heading off myself.

I had other things weighing on my mind. You see I had an oral presentation scheduled for my grad seminar the next day. (yes, note my use of the word "scheduled") I was VERY stressed about this presentation. I was to be giving an overview of one chapter of the book we are currently reading (on what would be best translated into English as social education/pedagogy), written by the professor. I managed to figure out a way that I thought would be new, different, and rather clever, to go beyond the book for the second half of my presentation, but I was worried about the first half. After all it is really only in the past year that I've become able to honestly say I can sit down and read an academic book in Japanese and actually have it make sense. And did I mention this is a book written by the professor, who would be obviously sitting right there for the entire presentation?! I've done that before in my previous incarnation as a grad student, and, as the saying goes - once bitten, twice shy!

So much of the past week has been spent working on this presentation, often into the wee hours of the morning (made much much worse by a nasty case of jet lag). Then I get to class on Friday and find out we're still watching War period and pre-War period animated films, related to the previous chapter.

So that about sums up my week...

I hope to be back to commenting on more interesting stuff soon, and do promise that my next knitting update is in the works!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

I just got back from a whirlwind business trip for the museum. The director, one of the curators, and I spent two days at meetings in the US Midwest related to an upcoming collaborative exhibition. The exhibit is trilateral - with us, a museum in the US and a Chinese institution but at the last moment the Chinese delegation had to pull out of the meeting as the government rescinded their travel permits citing the need to focus on reconstruction after the earthquakes. Despite only having two out of three of the institutions present, the meetings were very productive. I did a bit of simultaneous interpretation, took notes for the minutes, and even raised a few points of my own during the meetings. It was a great learning experience and as an added bonus I even got a quick tour of two local museums from one of the American curators (and a quick trip to the Walgreen's to restock those things that I just can't get in Japan).

When we arrived in the US the director of our partner museum asked us if our flight had been uneventful, and thankfully it had been. That said, I still found myself writing down my thoughts on the state of air travel these days...

What is it with air travel these days? When were the friendly skies replaced with new rude and inconsiderate skies? There are the big issues, like when I flew home at Christmas and the lady at the boarding gate saw no problem with snapping at me to "sit down now and wait." When I finally got her to listen to my question she then yelled at me for not having the issue dealt with sooner. Granted, it was the holiday season, the most stressful time of year, and there was bad weather playing havoc with air travel up and down the US western seaboard. But yelling and snapping at passengers before they have a chance to even say anything? Passengers are delayed because of weather issues and there are no gate staff to answer their questions. Then a single staff appears and starts yelling at people to go away and stop asking questions. Then you wonder why you have a waiting area of angry and cranky passengers?!

Really. Customer service 101. Basic human politeness. The Golden Rule. You treat somebody rudely, they'll get pissed off and treat the next person they meet rudely, and its a snowball out of control - the evil twin of paying it forward.

There are also the little things, the ways in which flight attendants and passengers show their consideration (or lack there of) for other passengers. I try to remember to always pull up my seat back when eating, so that the person behind me can actually see the meal on their tray. I remember when if you were asleep at mealtime, the flight attendant would leave you a note telling you to push your call button and ask for your meal. On my most recent flight, however, no such notes were in evidence.
"Eggs or noodles?" - asked once in a normal voice. No response?
"Eggs or noodles?" - hollered loud enough to wake the dead. No response?
poke-poke-poke (jabs in the shoulder) "Eggs or noodles?" - No response?
shake-shake (grabbed by the shoulder and shaken back and forth) "EGGS. OR. NOODLES?"
This normally caused some version of "mwfarmw mfwfarm??" from a sleepy and befuddled passenger, to which the flight attendant repeated, again "EGGS. OR. NOODLES?" with as much eye-rolling and sighing as a moody teenager.

There was also the flight attendant who wasn't thrilled to be asked to fill up the water glass of the girl sitting beside me, so he did so without really looking at her or her glass (held above my lap). When he dripped all over and dumped an ice cube on me he simply said "oops!" and without apologizing, he disappeared into the cabin to refill the water jug. When he came back out he walked right past me as if nothing had happened and didn't offer me anything to help mop up.

Nothing major, I suppose, but still. Welcome to air travel in the 21st century. Sigh.